The sixth century B.C. saw a period of religious disillusionment
within Hinduism. As all major religions experience, Hinduism experienced
during this time much extremism within. Many Hindus became depressed
at the idea that they would have to experience 100,000 lives before
they would attain enlightenment. Others inflicted tortures upon
themselves, sometimes gazing into the bright sun of India, others
inhaling smoke and fire. Priest craft became rampant with people
suffering the abuses of religious hierarchy. In defense, the people
began to coin religious prayers and slogans that sarcastically referred
to the priests as hoarding and gluttonous.(1)
But God brings all things to balance, and reforms began to happen
within Hinduism. One of these reforms was to be the birth of Buddhism.
A prince was born in India named Guatama. He grew up in a sheltered
life, his parents intent that he not know the pain and grief of
the outside world. But his parents could only shelter Guatama so
long. He eventually entered the real world and began to see the
pain of it.
Guatama knew he could not teach others until he first found the
answers within himself. Why was there such universal unhappiness.
How could one become happy? Guatama began his search by embracing
an ascetic lifestyle, not unlike that of the Christian "desert fathers."
Over the years, legends began to be born about him. Some said Guatama
learned to live on one grain of rice a day. After a six-year search
involving radical self-denial, he was near death. Not wanting to
die without having found the answers, he started eating again. This
coming back into balance saw the loss of his disciples, who were
willing to follow him in his religious zeal.
Finally, Guatama, after a day and part of a night began to see
the answers. He became enlightened with new knowledge. Guatama had
become the Buddha-the "awakened one." Desiring to share his new
knowledge, he set off for the town Benares to seek his former friends.
These were the first to hear his new insights. This first talk to
them came to be known as the Sermon on the Turning of the Wheel
of the Law and involved a life that traveled the way of the "middle
path"-a balanced life between the extremes of religious ascetics
on the one side, and extreme self-indulgence on the other. People
suffered because of this lack of balance!(2)
To find the way to balanced living was it! "Happiness he who seeks
may win, if he practice the seeking" said the Buddha.
Some feel that the Buddha started another religion. In a sense
this may be true. But the Buddha never left his grounding in Hinduism.
He lost respect for the "intellectualizers" of his day, who only
wanted to talk about suffering. A disciplined, balanced life must
Guatama's contribution to legitimate spirituality centered on the
causes of pain and suffering. His teachings finally came to be known
as "The Four Noble Truths." The first of the noble truths is to
embrace the reality of universal suffering--from the suffering of
a mother during child birth, through life's inequities and on through
the universal fear of death. He believed that denial of suffering
contributed to suffering. Westerners express this denial in their
manic search for pleasure and power. The Buddha saw suffering as
something, not to be shunned, but to be embraced--that suffering
is central to the divine economy. We must acknowledge as facts of
life: pain, decay, evil, separation from loved ones, felt frustration
over our inability to have legitimate needs validated, failure to
abandon and surrender to the mercy of God--all of these things,
causes of suffering. Clinging to anything--we would call these things
"addictions" today--is a cause of suffering. Being out of balance
leads to emotional pain--being out of harmony with nature and life.
Guatama believed "my sorrow is the world's sorrow." That redemption
was to be found in accepting the universality of suffering. This
world-view leads to authentic "identification" with all other human
The "Second Noble Truth" involves the cause of suffering. Guatama
said to his disciples: "I teach only two things, suffering, and
the release of suffering." The release has to do with the ability
of one to check ones "cravings"-attempts to attain balance and satisfaction
in spiritually inauthentic ways. To deny these cravings is what
is central to the Cross of Jesus: a forsaking of all personal idols.
The gratification of the senses cannot ever produce spiritual joy
or fulfillment. A craving of the senses, a craving for success and
popularity-all these restrict our freedom. The apostle Paul spoke
of this when he said: "Don't you know, that to whom you yield yourselves
servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether
of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (Romans
6:16). When all is said and done, sin represents a loss of freedom.
Our denial to face the reality of our deep unhappiness and unrest
within leads to all kinds of defense-building and idol-fashioning.
Our general unhappiness comes from our cravings which fall into
three groups: covetousness, resentment and infatuation. Christians
are encouraged to put to death these cravings. Once, upon watching
thirty young men chase a woman who had apparently robbed them, Buddha
asked them, "Which do think is better, chasing women or tracking
The Third Noble Truth involves the complete cessation of our cravings.
The ignoring of our real needs leads to unhappiness. We must ask
ourselves: "Who am I, really?" Guatama believed that the pursuit
of the "real self" was key and this involves finding God's real
purpose for our lives. We find ourselves by loosing ourselves, according
to Jesus. Therefore, Christians express this attaining of the real
self by becoming identified with the suffering and death of Jesus.
We should seek the cause of our cravings and then strive to remove
the cause. This is accomplished by the joint effort of our selves
and the Higher Power (AA) who is available to all who call upon
him. The availability of God has been shown over and over in Alcoholics
Anonymous. Tens of thousands of alcoholic people have called upon
this "Higher Power" and have received the answer, though many had
no particular allegiance to an "official" religion.
Though most Christians would scoff at the idea of the "transmigration
of souls," the general idea has merit. The kind of character a person
builds today will determine the happiness he will have in the future.
Buddha believed that the true values of life include kindness and
love. He said, "hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred
ceases by love."
Had Guatama stopped with the Third Noble Truth--"Cease the desires
that lead to unhappiness, his followers would have been left with
little practical help. The Fourth Noble Truth is broken out into
eight steps that if followed offer that help:
1) Right Viewpoint. The beginning of the spiritual journey begins
when one ceases to be a "victim" and starts to "own" ones problems.
Guatama didn't claim to have found an original formula for happiness;
he believed that the principles involved are ancient. Accepting
ones personal responsibility for ones unhappiness is the beginning
of the quest for happiness. As long as we view life as a victim
we will remain unhappy. Accepting personal responsibility is starting
off "on the right foot."
2) Right Aspiration. We must renounce the pursuit of false values
and see our addictions for what they are: attempts to get our legitimate
needs met in illegitimate (unhealthy) ways. The Buddha saw "kindness
and love" as the sum of true values. These values put the emphasis
on others and their needs. This concerned, outwardly focused mindset
is critical. Guatama's first two steps involve attitude. Now we
move into action: the kind of behavior that flows from right attitudes.
3) Right Speech. Slander, gossip and abusive talk contaminate ones
own mental condition. Right speech-praise of others, encouragement,
positive and hopeful talk blesses the giver and the receiver. The
Christian Apostle Paul observed: "Whatever things are just…pure,
lovely and of a good report…if there is any virtue and if there
is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things" (Letter to the
4) Right Behavior. Guatama said it was better to encourage people
in good things to do, rather than order them not to do wrong things.
"Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good"-also
a strong Christian principle. He added, "If someone curses you,
you must suppress all resentment and make the firm determination.
'My mind shall not be disturbed, and no angry word shall escape
my lips. I will remain kind and friendly, and with lovely thoughts
and no secret spite.' If when you are attacked with fists, with
stones, with sticks, with swords, you must suppress all resentment
and preserve a loving mind with no secret spite."
5) Right Livelihood. Guatama believed that certain jobs would be
spiritually injurious to one set on a spiritual path. On this he
departed from Hindu thinking, which believed that everyone was born
into his rightful occupation. The Buddha felt that one may have
to change is line of work if it involved "destruction" in any way.
This would include soldiering, butchering, slave trading and liquor
or drug manufacturing. Making or selling illegal drugs, alcohol
or other toxic substances he felt would not be conducive to the
spiritual life. The spirit of this step is felt by modern liberal
Christians in their desire to be socially responsible to the environment.
6) Right Effort. This step involves the "pace" of ones spiritual
journey. There is no point in "working the steps" faster than others.
It is important to find ones personal "tempo" of growth, a part
of learning about ones true self (which facilitates a better understanding
7) Right Mindfulness. The Buddha had an intuitive sense about human
"feelings." He believed them to be fickle and short lived. A person's
ability to be objective about his feelings allows for him to be
less driven and overcome by them.
8) Right Contemplation. Guatama was in sympathy with the Yoga practices
of his day though he did not find in the full answers to life and
happiness that he sought. He saw the value in a person being able
to "silence" his mind. Contemplation was simply a different way
of discerning, not by reason and logic, but by insight and intuition.
This is the goal of the Christian practice of Meditation: to develop
the "right brain" or intuitive part of the mind as well as the rational
"left brain" side. The Jewish psalmist David implored God, "Let
the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable
in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
This has been the briefest synopsis of the Buddha's steps toward
knowing ones self, and in knowing ones self, knowing God, and by
knowing the true nature of God, knowing happiness. The goal is the
release of all "craving, resentment and covetousness." Such release
provides for a freedom of spirit of "Nirvana."
Nirvana is not a place but a state of mind. To modern Buddhists,
it represents the cessation of all future reincarnations-the escape
from the "Round of Becoming." Nirvana can be experienced now, but
Buddhists believe in an ultimate Nirvana, to be experienced at death.
Nirvana has its Christian equivalent. New Christians often think
of "heaven" as a place, in the direction of "up." "Eternal life"
is a term used sometimes interchangeably with "heaven." But one
grows in the Christian walk to see eternal life as a state of mind,
a quality of spiritual life; something experienced as one comes
to know the nature of God. This closely relates to Buddhism's "Nirvana."
After Buddha's death, his disciples wrote down his sayings and
teachings. This Buddhist scripture is called the Tripitak, meaning
three baskets. As happened to Christianity, Buddhism slowly changed,
coalescing into two main groups: Southern Buddhism called Hinayana,
and Northern Buddhism called Mahayana. These represent the conservatives
and liberals of Buddhism.
The smaller group, Hinayana, feels they are the purest and closest
to original Buddhist thinking. Hinayana means "small vehicle," indicating
their belief that only a few can find release, or Nirvana. The larger
group Mahayana means "great vehicle" reflecting their view that
many may find salvation. The two ways of thinking about salvation
is seen in Christianity. Conservatives or fundamentalist Christians
believe in the "fewness doctrine"--that few will find eternal life.
Liberal Christians are far more optimistic about how things will
turn out. Some liberals hold to the ancient doctrine of Universalism;
that is, God will finally restore all things to balance--that all
will be, finally "saved", to use a Christian word.
Hinayana Buddhists believe they are fully in charge of their destiny--no
help from God or others. This corresponds loosely to the Christian
Arminian way of thinking: where personal choice-making is all-important;
a "choice based" model of redemption. Mahayana Buddhists is the
way of "mutual aid" where they can draw upon others, even other
Buddha's for help. This more hopeful outlook is similar to the Christian
"faith-based model of redemption" where reliance on a "greater
power than ones self" (AA phrase) is the model.
"Whenever a person worships the Buddha, he is actually worshipping
the Buddha nature, which Guatama revealed" (Ibid.). The "nature"
of deity is important--Buddhist do not worship bronze statues. Christians,
particularly Catholics and Orthodox worship the nature of Jesus
when prostate before a crucifix--they are not worshipping the wood
Mahayana Buddhists look for the coming of Maitreya, the "Messiah"
Buddha of the next age. This is similar to the Christian doctrine
of the Second Coming where Jesus is expected to return to earth
a second time in the next age.
However there is another side to Mahayana Buddhism, called Ch'an
in China and Zen in Japan. Zen isn't big on ideas like "heaven",
"faith" or "god." It puts the priority on experience. Schools, books
and teachers can only point, as a finger, toward a greater reality.
Christianity could learn from this. Christian colleges, books, seminars,
sermons, etc., are all fine as far as they go. But they only point
toward a greater reality. Attempts at formulating a Christian "systematic
theology" have only produced denominational division numbering in
the thousands. "You must live a life of moderation and kindness
and go about your daily activities, learning to question your impressions
and thoughts. Suddenly, some day you will understand" (Ibid.).
Daisetz Suzuki, the Zen Master who brought the best of the tradition
to the West, before his death in 1966 was asked point blank by Huston
Smith: "What is Zen?" He answered in benediction fashion:
Infinite gratitude for all things past,
Infinite service to all things present,
Infinite responsibility to all things future.
"Remember the wheel of cause and consequence,
of deed and destiny and the wheel of dharma that rights them all."
Sathya Sai Baba
Buddhist holidays (celebrated by children in China, India,
Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam.
Bodhi Day-December 8. A celebration of the enlightenment of Buddha
under the Bodhi tree.
Nirvana Day-February 8. Observes the passing of Buddha into Nirvana.
Buddha Day-April 8. Celebrates the birth of Gautama in Lumhini Garden.
Houses and streets are cleaned and decorated with Buddhist flags
and flowers. In villages, Buddhists gather around statues of the
Buddha when it is dark. They walk around the statue with candles
till all is covered in light.
Wesak-April 27. The holiest of Buddhist holy days. Celebrates Buddha's
birth, enlightenment and death. According to tradition, Wesak is
a time when the Buddha returns to Earth, to bless it. Songkran-April
(variable date). The joyous "Water Festival," a three-day welcome
to Spring. In Thailand it marks the new year, and it is celebrated
by throwing water on people, even strangers.
(BUDDHISM) "Remember the wheel of cause and consequence, of deed
and destiny and the wheel of dharma that rights them all."
(Much More Buddhism to Come)
1 Hindu religious extremism
should not be thought odd. Christianity has had its bout of it over
its 2000 year history. It started with fanatical dietary laws (a
carryover from Judaism) and the insistence that male proselytes
have the tips of their penis cut off. Modern peculiar Christian
behavior includes of Christians falling over backwards and others
barking like dogs or mooing like cows.
2 The Hebrew wisdom literature speaks also to this: "Though people
tend to extremism, God brings all to balance" (Proverbs 16:2).